The funding of colleges to help students cope with the recession is "fundamentally flawed", according to research seen by The TESS.
In early June, Education and Lifelong Learning Secretary Fiona Hyslop announced a pound;28 million package over two years to ensure the further education sector was able to respond to unprecedented student demand - pound;16m to create the equivalent of 3,100 full- time college places and pound;12m to improve facilities.
The announcement was warmly greeted by college leaders. It was "simply great news", Linda McTavish, convener of Scotland's Colleges Principals' Conven- tion, declared. Without the additional investment, Anniesland Col- lege's principal added, they "would have struggled to cater to the increased demand".
The Scottish Funding Council, which is responsible for distributing funds to colleges on behalf of the Government, revealed last month how the money was to be allocated.
But it left 20 of the 43 colleges out in the cold, despite the fact that almost all colleges have experienced a huge surge in demand for college places as the economic downturn forces people to re-examine their skills and job prospects.
The funding council was told by Ms Hyslop to give priority to school leavers and to parts of the country where there was the greatest need. But the research indicates that the current crop of 15-18 year olds has been largely overlooked, as the calculations for college allocations were based on May 2009 figures for 17-24 year olds.
The research suggests that the overwhelming load of applications for college places this session has come from the under-18s, so that "many thousands of younger school leavers have been disadvantaged" in the 20 colleges which received no additional funding.
It states: "It would appear that this whole exercise has been unemployment-led as opposed to demand-led, and the statistics on which it was based are fundamentally flawed in that it excludes current school leavers."
The SFC distribution is also challenged on the basis that the money went to colleges which served the 14 local authority areas felt to be in greatest need. This gave priority to the councils which had the largest number of unemployed 17-24 year olds in "raw" statistical terms during the year to May 2009; the top 10 authorities were Glasgow, North Lanarkshire, South Lanarkshire, Fife, Edinburgh, West Lothian, Falkirk, Renfrewshire, East Ayrshire and Dundee.
But a competing view is that the money should have gone to colleges in areas experiencing the greatest increase in unemployment among 17-24 year olds during the past year. Remarkably, this "league table" is topped by Orkney where the jobless tally in the age group rose from 15 to 55 during 2008-09 - modest in "raw" terms, but representing a 267 per cent increase.
It was followed by similarly rural areas in this alternative league table - East Lothian (up by 147 per cent), Perth and Kinross (125 per cent), Stirling (121 per cent), East Renfrewshire (113 per cent), East Dunbartonshire (111 per cent), South Lanarkshire (110 per cent), Midlothian (105 per cent), Scottish Borders (97 per cent) and North Lanarkshire (94 per cent).
The funding council acknowledges that targeting the extra investment on 14 council areas in the way it has, represented "the best proxies for need". But the research indicates major inequalities. If the additional cash had been divided equally among all the 43 colleges, for example, the biggest single beneficiary - Adam Smith College in Fife - would have suffered a cut from pound;567,056 to pound;412,035.
Other colleges would have benefited significantly. Aberdeen College, which will receive nothing under the SFC package, would have got pound;502,516 if there had been an equal share-out. Jewel and Esk College in EdinburghDalkeith is set to get pound;74,703 but could have had pound;220,668.
The analysis of the SFC's decisions criticises further inconsistency, in that a condition of its cash hand-out precludes colleges which have failed to meet their spending targets. But four large colleges have been made exceptions - Edinburgh's Telford, James Watt in Greenock, North Glasgow and Stow in Glasgow - which has created unrest in some of the smaller colleges.
The funding council says it is seeking "additional information" from these colleges to check on whether they have sufficient demand for places to use the additional funding for 2009-10.
The council adds that the benefits of its investments will be felt in places most affected by the downturn. It continues: "We believe they will help to combat the threat of a `lost generation' of young people unable to contribute to the future of their communities through a lack of skills, confidence and aspiration - the very things that all colleges work towards, whatever their size, speciality or location."